by Colette Taylor
The first time I was invited to a “creative meeting,” I had no idea what to expect. It sounded like fun; who doesn’t like to create? But I quickly realized “creative” and “meeting” can have lots of different meanings. Luckily, my first exposure to creative meetings was for a program called KidStuf at North Point Community Church.
I figured out right away that a creative meeting is only as good as the facilitator of the meeting, and my first meeting had a great facilitator. Reggie Joiner was that facilitator and the same person who had envisioned the event from the beginning. Reggie navigated a lot of ideas (some great, some terrible), from some very diverse personalities. He somehow made people feel like their terrible ideas weren’t all that bad and would get us to an end result we all liked. (I think some of those terrible ideas were mine. I remember hearing quite often: “There are no bad ideas.”) You could freely share your ideas without feeling inadequate or insecure. There were many times we might talk about a dozen less-than-great ideas, but each one got us one step further to the best idea yet.
Since that time, I’ve been a part of hundreds of creative meetings organized to produce events, design family ministry environments, plan staff retreats and build camps from the ground up.
I’ve been in some excellent creative meetings and then there were ones where you hoped someone would accidentally set off the fire alarm so the building would have to be evacuated so the meeting would end. Hopefully, these suggestions will help you successfully facilitate a creative meeting to come up with the best possible ideas without needing to set off the fire alarm.
THE CREATIVE TEAM
One of the first misconceptions of putting together a creative meeting is that you need a lot of people to come up with a lot of ideas. But it’s actually easy to have too many people in the meeting. There are a couple of reasons for this:
- Too many people cause distractions
- Too many side conversations take place
- People talk over each other
- You have to provide more snacks
How many participants is too many?
While there’s probably not a definitive answer to this, a good number to start with is six to eight. You may have to schedule a few meetings and try it out with different numbers of attendees to find a balance. One of the things we discovered is that it’s best to ask people to attend one or two creative meetings (even though long-term, you may have 12 scheduled for an event or project). That way, if you realize that it’s too many, you don’t have to un-invite them.
How do you know who to invite?
Not every person on your staff needs to participate. As a matter of fact, there are some people on your team who would rather run across hot coals than to be a part of a creative meeting. They are usually your more concrete thinkers. They don’t really love to brainstorm. They will spend the entire time in the meeting thinking of the to-do list on their desk that isn’t getting done. Then there are those who are more “realistic.” They are hard workers, but would rather work on the budget than think about how to get a camel in the room for the Christmas story.
You want participants who aren’t concerned with coming up with the best idea themselves, but understand that it’s a process. Their ideas may not be used as originally stated but it helped to get to the best idea that will now be put into play.
Many times, you’ll need to look outside of your organization for people to invite. Remember the KidStuf creative meetings I mentioned earlier? When I was first invited to those meetings, I was not a staff member. I was a mom who had two kids the age KidStuf was geared toward. We also had two other moms, a stage host, an actor and a worship leader. We were all extremely varied in our personalities and our talents. What we each brought to the table meshed well together to create a Family Experience.
So, you’ve scheduled your first few creative meetings for an upcoming event. You’ve invited the people you think would be the best ones to have around the table. Now what?
THE CREATIVE SPACE
Select a meeting space that is warm and inviting. A space with windows is always good for creative meetings. You want it to be relaxing and fun. You may be thinking, “Well, none of our spaces are super fun and exciting.” That’s okay. You can make it fun by bringing small toys for people to play with. Or cover the plain white table with craft paper and throw crayons in the center. The key is to let people in the meeting loosen up and feel free to share ideas.
To set up the space for our meetings, we use storyboards and multicolored index cards. You can also use a white board.
THE CREATIVE MEETING
Define the Meeting
One of the most important things you can do at the beginning of a creative meeting is to define the kind of creative meeting it is. If you fail to do this it could be a frustrating experience for those facilitating and whoever is participating. Here are a couple of examples.
Blue Sky Meetings
When planning for an environment, special event or Sunday service, you’ll need several different kinds of creative meetings. In a “blue sky” meeting, any idea is welcome. This is not the time to talk about budget or time limitations. Just broad ideas.
The next set of meetings are ones where you’ll narrow your options. In these more decisive meetings, you’ll eliminate ideas that aren’t possible due to location, facility limitations, budget or other reasons.
The decisions have been made, so it’s time to put hands and feet to the ideas. At this point, you can schedule follow-up meetings to check on everyone’s progress.
Knowing the type of meeting makes a big difference. You don’t need action steps at a blue sky meeting, and you don’t need new off-the-wall ideas at an action meeting.
Guard the Focus
“Wait! I thought we were supposed to be creative! Focus?” Yes, because believe it or not, focus can fuel creativity. That’s why you need to start with a white card on the board that clearly defines the goal of what you are trying to create or the problem that needs to be solved. Without that direction, you can waste a lot of creative energy. Some people have the idea that the creative meeting is supposed to be free-flowing, where anything goes. Creativity without focus can lead to confusion. The best meetings have just enough order so that even ideas you don’t use are worth keeping. You’ll still chase some rabbits in creative meetings, but focus means you chase the kind of rabbits that lead you down a path and uncover a hole that will lead you back. Effective facilitators have to guard the focus without shutting down the flow of ideas.
Capture the Ideas
It’s also important to have two notetakers: one person who takes detailed notes and another person who can write the ideas on index cards (or whiteboard) and post them up as they are being thrown out so none of them get lost. You will be surprised at how much you can miss if no one is taking detailed notes. It’s also pretty entertaining to go back and read the notes later. You’ll find yourself wondering how on earth you thought you were going to be able to fly someone into the ceiling to demonstrate Jesus’ ascension into heaven.
Debrief Next Steps
Once your event is over, the final type of meeting is a “debrief.” This is where you’ll celebrate the wins and then discuss what could have been better, especially if this is an on-going event or environment. Keep debrief meetings positive. How can you be positive when talking about things that went wrong or things to improve? By not placing blame and not beating something to death. In these meetings, we encourage people to bring solutions if they bring up something that didn’t go quite right. You want the people in the meeting to leave encouraged, not discouraged. While every little thing may not have gone right, in the end, you probably had an incredible event that changed the life of a child.
The brainstorming, creative process can be a bit overwhelming in the beginning. But remember: the God who CREATED everything, including you, has called you to create environments for kids that will bring them closer to Him. I can’t think of a better reason to find a way to dream up the very best ideas.
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